It’s everywhere. Every. Where. But most people aren’t aware of the effects it has on how they think, act, and what they see as possible. I see people not knowing what socialization is and how they are affected by it everyday. Whether we are talking about sex and dating (“It’s just a preference.”) or systems of oppression like racism (Black people seen as especially angry/dangerous) or transphobia/transmisia (Thinking there are only 2 genders). Socialization is there setting the scene for your life. Even in this society where we are taught to be “mavericks” and achieve our individual American dreams (these are all examples of socialization by the way), we are all living our lives by scripts and rules set out for us. And those who actually go against the grain in ways that capitalism can’t make money off of are socially punished at best. Many have also been abandoned, killed or imprisoned. This post will focus on explaining what socialization is and how it affects every part of our lives with the goal of helping people become more aware. I am constantly taking about the importance of self-reflection and awareness. Self-awareness and awareness of the various kinds of socializations is the first step to freedom.
So what is socialization? Socialization is the process of learning the social agenda and everyone’s place in society. It is a learning process that starts from the moment we are born that we can’t opt out of and we can’t avoid it. And no one is immune to it. Nobody is above the power of socialization. It starts from birth and you are already living according to what you’ve learned from it years before you are old enough to start to become aware of it. Learning in socialization happens on many levels: at home with parents/guardians, in extended families, at school, with friends/peers, in church/places of worship, in the community, in the media, etc. Learning the social rules and agenda in a society can happen verbally, in body language, reading between the lines in implied situations, etc. We are constantly learning ideals, morals, ethics, values, and rules for how to behave that determine all the choices we make. We are all directly and indirectly punished/rewarded for certain traits/behaviors. We’ve also watched others get gathered for things they did. We saw the consequences of their actions and switched up our behavior in response. That kind of learning literally changes our brains and affects what we think is possible to be and do in the world.
Socialization is how you learned to believe that poor people aren’t working hard enough or that “boys will be boys” when cis men engage in violent behavior. It’s how you learn that having dark skin is ugly/animalistic or how you learn that to be feminine is to be weak. Socialization is what encourages people socialized as women/femmes to stay with toxic men because they see the potential of who he might become while encouraging cishet and cis masculine men to leave the moment they are unhappy. If life is a board game, the game is rigged and everyone’s roles and destiny was pre-decided by a handful of people who cheated and stole to get that power. They wanna keep most of the winnings to themselves so they set up the game so people like them always win…as long as everyone plays their part. Socialization is the game rules and everyone is told that if they keep to the script, they might win something in the end. But anyone really paying attention can see that, like gambling, the House always wins. These rules are not natural law. This ain’t ordained by god or whatever other justification they use for being greedy and bigoted. Because socialization is taught from the moment we are born, it’s easy to believe that social problems can’t be changed. Poverty, racism, colorism, rape culture, etc. are man-made problems, not natural disasters that we can throw our “thoughts and prayers” at. That’s why it’s so interesting that people (usually people defending their position of power/privilege) love to talk about the “agendas” of marginalized people like ”The Gay Agenda,” for example. They snitch on themselves with this. Pay attention: any different ways of thinking and/or existing in the world directly stand against the socialization game rules and the agenda THEY set up to benefit them. If you act differently, you mess with their bag. They have an agenda that they want to protect at other people’s expense.
To complicate things, someone can both benefit from socialization and be oppressed in different ways. Somebody can be oppressed for being Black and gay, but receive access to power, spaces, or resources for being a cisgender, abled, and masculine man. This person could definitely experience systemic racism (job discrimination for being Black) and have individual experiences with homophobia (abandoned by his family and communities and forced to figure out life on his own). That said, he also benefits from living in a society that rewards and gives priority to able-bodied masculine men and holds back, oppresses, punishes, and/or kills people who are feminine and/or not cisgender. Because people often can both benefit and be oppressed within these different systems of oppression, many people often focus only on the oppressions they deal with and ignore the suffering of other people. Especially if they can enjoy some level of power over those other people. This society encourages people to not have empathy for others so everyone can keep playing the game. It’s exploitation on so many levels.
I mentioned before that socialization affects how you see the world. This can look like white people calling the cops on Native youth for going on a college campus tour because “they don’t belong”. Dig deep there: why don’t they belong? Why don’t non-white youth belong in school? That’s racism and socialization: racism is taught to us and is a part of how we are socialized. Internalized racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. is also socialization. Even sexual preferences that y’all love to pretend are objective and not affected by anything. Sexual preferences and your ideals of attractiveness are strongly influenced by socialization. We are all taught who is attractive, who is worth dating and loving, and who is worth just having sex with in private. None of that is natural law. And I know what many of y’all are going to wanna say at this point: “I’m my own person. I just like what I like. I believe what I believe. And that’s that on that”. Yeah, you have an inner self. You are you, but this you is filtered through and shaped by the society we live in. If you weren’t socialized into believing that some people are less equal than others through racism, misogyny, homophobia/homomisia, transphobia/transmisia, ableism, colorism, etc., then you would have different values and be a different person. Like that Black Mirror episode: “Men Against Fire” with the Roaches [SPOILER]. Think of socialization as the MASS implant given to soldiers to hide the true identities of the people being killed. The implants created the circumstances where the soldiers could dehumanize people and see them as “roaches” in order to participate in genocide and basically their systemic removal from society. [END SPOILER] That’s what socialization does. Changing how you see the world so you can participate in society according to the rules. If you were socialized to see transgender people as equal human beings like you, you would be disgusted at how often people joke about killing them or how medical providers will leave trans people to die because healing them is against their religion. If you were socialized to see dark-skinned Black women as people, you wouldn’t call them “unrapeable” and “roaches”. It’s easy to separate children from their parents and then “lose” them if you see them as “animals”. And again, 1 of the goals of socialization, like the implants, is to systemically remove certain people or make them invisible in society. These are physical, psychological, and social genocides.
You don’t have to keep playing the game with the rules you have been given. Socialization can be unlearned. For example, people of color expect white people to unlearn the racism they were socialized into. And the Me Too movement is about asking people to unlearn the socialization around rape culture. Taking apart your assumptions is hard work, but it’s definitely possible. It’s something to work on everyday while being open to being corrected on your mess. Fostering awareness of yourself (1 way is through Mindfulness techniques. Check out my piece here) is the start to unpacking socialization’s baggage. Freedom isn’t something that passively happens. Ain’t nobody gonna just free us. We have to free ourselves and it starts in our minds.
Thanks for reading. The next post will be about dealing conflict and deescalating situations as a person of color in a white-dominated workplace.